Language diversity

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MORE than 50 first languages are spoken by children in North Somerset’s schools.

The district hosts a total of 56 first languages among its classrooms, with just fewer than 900 children speaking English as an ‘additional language’.

And for one primary school, 31 per cent of pupils regard English as a foreign tongue.

North Somerset Council’s executive member for children and young people Jeremy Blatchford said helping children become fluent in English represented a ‘challenge’, but praised the attitude of families and their children for their eagerness to pick up the language.

He said: “There are many children who come into North Somerset without English as a first language, but they pick it up very quickly indeed.

“These children are highly motivated and come from families with backgrounds where they have had to pick themselves up and move from Eastern Europe, Spain, or even Afghanistan; they have done something about it.

“Our experience is that these families are not here to sponge off the state, but to make a living for themselves and that is reflected in their children.”

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North Somerset Black and Mixed Ethnicity (BME) Network offers free English lessons for immigrants to the area, as well as helping people integrate after moving from abroad.

Chairman Carmela Kellaway brought her two daughters from South America in the late 1990s and said the changes in the make-up of North Somerset schools had been surprising since she arrived in the area.

She said: “My husband and I came to this country from Venezuela, and when we arrived my two daughters were the only foreigners in their school.

“They were really loved and pampered by everyone because they were the only ones who didn’t speak English, but we did some research more recently and found about 50 different languages were being spoken in that same school. It’s amazing how it has changed.

“But people do not come without the determination to integrate; one of my daughters has now graduated from university, the other is studying at Cardiff.

“I see a massive determination to contribute to society from people coming here.”

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